Watch the Sunday School video for July 18, 2021
posted on the church Facebook page.
Focus Passage: Acts 6:1-7
Purpose: To discern how the church can best care
for its members in need.
- Invite class members to share briefly a time when someone responded with care to you when you had a need. Who was the person who gave you care; a pastor, Sunday School teacher, leader in the church, congregant, etc.?
We know from the beginning of Acts; the Holy Spirit is alive and active. The Holy Spirit serves to empower ALL believers for ministry, not just pastors. We ALL have the same Spirit to share in the mission and ministry of Jesus. Acts 2:17-18 tells us the Holy Spirit will fall upon “all flesh,” “your sons and your daughters” “young and old” and slaves, men and women. Acts 2:38-39 again affirms the Spirit is not just for a few or elite group of prophets, but for ALL those whom God calls. None are exempt! YOU are included in the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to carry out what God calls you to do! Yea! So, what exactly are we empowered to do? Let’s find out…
Read: Acts 6:1-7
The appointment of Stephen and six others is a beautiful example of empowerment of the laity to fulfill God’s calling on all believers. We may think only of clergy being appointed to the church, but the laity is also. In verse 6:3 the NRSV says, “whom we may ‘appoint’ to the task.” All are called to the ministry of the church, some to Word, Service, Sacrament, and Order (for elders as we understand in the UMC), and Word and Service (for deacons in the UMC), but all to service using their particular spiritual gifts. We see here with this concern that laity may have a better reading on the particular needs within the church than clergy.
- Discuss the nature of the “Complaint” brought forward.
- How can whispered insinuations be destructive of the unity and well-being of God’s people and the effective ministry of the church?
From the beginning of Acts, (right after Pentecost) we see the new church growing by leaps and bounds. Jews and early Christians were just now learning how to do ministry together when a problem arose, widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. This was a huge infraction to both the Hellenists (Greek-speaking Jews) and the Hebrews (who spoke Aramaic). Despite the language and cultural differences, taking care of widows was a Scriptural command both recognized.
It is interesting the word used here is “Complaint,” a word rarely used in the ancient Greek of the Old Testament (OT). This was a serious violation causing great dissention. By definition, complaint means to express discontent, even fault-finding. I would venture to say, when we complain, it is about someone else not doing their job, not us! I wonder why those who chose to complain, didn’t just step up to do something about it?! This complaint is actually a pivotal event that marks the distinction between roles and responsibilities in the early church. Prayer and Preaching the Word the primary duties for clergy, and the service of caring for and meeting the practical needs of church members for the laity.
The disrupting complaint was brought to the twelve (original disciples of Jesus), to be resolved. They with Great Leadership! convened a conference with the whole body of believers to 1) acknowledge the problem and 2) address the inappropriateness of the oversight. This would look like a special called church conference to us today. They came up with a plan, first acknowledging, “It is not right that we should neglect the word of God in order to wait on tables” (v. 3), then charging the whole body of believers to, “select from among yourselves seven men of good standing, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint to the task” (v. 3)
Seven from the laity of the church were chosen with these qualifications, Stephen being the most well-known, whom the modern-day Stephen Ministries is founded upon. It is a lay care giving ministry that supplements pastoral care. The seven were brought before the twelve who laid hands on and prayed over them. This was a commissioning and appointing ceremony if you will, as the church recognized that God had called these people to a particular ministry.
The lay ministry is reserved not just for a few. We see a parallel in Numbers 11 where Moses chose and appointed 70 to help “carry the burden of the people.” There is plenty to be done by all for effective ministry to be carried out. When we do what God calls us to do, blessings are possible. “The word of God continued to spread: the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith” (v.6:7). Effective resolution to the conflict brought blessings. Now that is something to look forward to and celebrate!
- Do you feel qualified as laity to minister to others? In what ways? If not, discuss why. Who is it that equips and empowers us for ministry? (Remember Acts 2:17-18 in the overview above? The Holy Spirit is available to and empowers ALL!)
- Who would you consider the most vulnerable among us today? Discuss how you and your Sunday School class is caring for them. If this is a weak area, how can you individually and as a whole best welcome and care for them? Is the work of our church effectively spread among clergy and laity? How can laity help so that pastors have more time to devote to tasks that only they can do?
- What concern or area of opportunity do you see that needs to be brought to the attention of the pastoral team?